Neighbors near Walnut Lane Bridge say unruly park visitors still a problem

On Tuesday night, members of the Blue Bell Hill Civic Association (BBH) spoke with the Fairmount Park Rangers Corps about quelling problems associated with unruly patrons of nearby Blue Bell Hill Meadow.

Blue Bell Hill Meadow is located on Walnut Lane in Germantown, opposite W. Johnson St. The park serves as the southern boundary for BBH’s territory, which straddles the Germantown and West Mount Airy neighborhoods.

Blue Bell Hill is bounded by Wissahickon Avenue, Walnut Lane, Cliveden Street and the northeast edge of Fairmount Park, and includes Rittenhouse Town.

Speaking for the FPRC was Sahlee Brown, lead ranger with the corps’ Wissahickon District, based in the Thomas Mansion on Wissahickon Ave.

Responsible for many of the parks in Philadelphia’s northwest corridor, Brown noted that the FRPC’s Wissahickon District acquired Hunting Park in its jurisdiction two years ago, resulting in a larger patrol area for Wissahickon-based rangers.

“It’s a new challenge,” he said, but is balanced by generally good behavior at Blue Bell.

Nature of complaints

Ted Qualli, BBH president, observed that typical residential complaints stem from amplified sound, parking overflow issues, and park closing-time violations. In the past, he added, violence was a major issue, but has subsided in recent memory.

Generally, said Qualli, “noise is the predictor of other problems.”

In response, Brown said that as rangers are unarmed, their primary responsibilities are to “warn and educate,” with enforcement falling to the Philadelphia Police Department.

He said that curbing amplified sound has been largely met with cooperation, as the bearers of picnic permits have their contact information on file, and are therefore eligible for violations.

After hours

Fairmount Park requires people to leave the park at 1 a.m. Brown said that getting people to close up in a timely fashion after a day of partying can be challenging. And, as there are only two rangers are engaged in the district per shift, getting to each park presents logistical difficulties.

Asked by Qualli what the community can do to assist, Brown reinforced that park neighbors serve as the “eyes and ears” of the FPRC, and that any reports should be directed to dispatchers. With Blue Bell Hill being the park closest to base, Brown said it’s generally the easiest to respond to.

Asked by residents how to handle problem animals – including both unsupervised dogs and potentially rabid animals – Brown said to contact Animal Control first, but to also notify FRPC.

But Brown has more than passing familiarity with local park issues – he’s both a neighbor and an avid biker in the Wissahickon trails.

“I’ve experienced these problems in and out of uniform,” he said. “I’m out there all the time.”

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